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BY PETER ROYSTON
Welcome to Spider-man turn off the dark
Listen. Let me tell you a story.
A boy is bitten by a spider and gains its powers: its strength, agility, its ability
to scale walls and swing on webs through the air.
At first, the boy revels in this new power and uses his talents for selfish ends.
He cares nothing for the world around him, only for himself.
But after a great tragedy, he makes the choice to use his powers to fight evil.
Although the world shuns him, he battles injustice wherever he sees it.
An ancient myth, told around a fire? A folk-tale passed
down from generation to generation? No…and yes! When
writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko created the comic book
superhero Spider-Man in 1962, they tapped into ideas
that had run through stories and mythology since the dawn
of time: human beings granted the powers of animals, the
place of the Hero in society, and, most important, the nature
of Power and Responsibility. They created a character and
a story that have stood strong for more than thirty years in
comic books, comic strips, novels, animated cartoons and
Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark has many elements that will
be exciting for young people: an adventure story with science
fiction elements, a coming-of-age story, a story of young love,
and, most important, a story of responsibility.
Peter Parker is a young man who is granted the gift (or is it a
curse?) of the spider’s powers: to swing from webs, strength,
speed, agility. He is told by his Uncle that “with great power
comes great responsibility.”
But Uncle Ben’s warning is not about having super powers; he
never learns of his nephew’s special gifts. He’s talking about the
power within us all to change things for the better. All young
people have “power”: they all have talents and potential to
shape their futures and their world. How young people use
their talents, their voices, their “powers,” and how they see their
responsibility to their communities and the world, is a major
theme of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark.
These days, it’s very easy to lose hope, to feel that you
are powerless and things are hopeless. The message of
Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark is that we can make change,
that we can use our “powers,” whatever they may be, to
overcome obstacles and make a difference in other
takinG on reSponSiBilitY
What is responsibility? Who, or what, are we responsible for?
How are we responsible for each other? What “threads” or
“webs” join us together?
Responsibility is a vital theme throughout Spider-Man Turn Off
The Dark. Peter Parker gains extraordinary powers and begins
to use them for himself. Peter never wants to be Spider-Man;
he never asks to be a hero. He only wants what we all want: to
have success, to be loved, to be comfortable and safe.
It’s only when his selfishness leads to his beloved uncle’s death
that he realizes the truth in what Uncle Ben told him: that having
powers and talents mean using them to better the world, to
In Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, tragedy occurs when Peter
takes a step back and refuses to act. An old saying goes, “All it
takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.” Or as
Peter Sanderson writes in Marvel Universe, “Spider-Man has
repeatedly questioned his own mission, but he always comes
back to the question of his own responsibility to the world.
To allow wrongdoing to occur is, in Spider-Man’s mind, to be
part of it.”
It takes courage to be responsible. We think of courage as grand
and heroic, but sometimes being courageous just means doing
the right thing. As we see in Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark,
doing the right thing can be hard.
Responsibility carries with it the obligation of being proactive: of
doing the right thing, achieving things to fulfill our responsibilities
and goals. If we would all live our lives in responsible ways,
real change could take place; we would not need to rely on
governments or corporations to take control; we would be able
to make change ourselves.
Young people in the United States and around the world are
beginning to embrace a culture of responsibility. From the
Servicenation Coalition to the Responsibility Project, from
City Year to Locks of Love, young people are discovering the
satisfactions of service – to family, school, community or nation.
Young people are discovering that their “powers” – their voices,
actions and behaviors – can change the world.
it’S a QueStion of reSponSiBilitY: What iS reSponSiBilitY to You?
What does responsibility mean to you? Working in a group, arrive at your own definition of responsibility.
1. Each member of the group or class should answer the following questions on their own,
working in private.
To me, responsibility means _________________________________________________________________
When I show responsibility, this is how I feel: __________________________________________________
When I avoid responsibility, this is how I feel: _________________________________________________
Here are three ways I can become a more responsible person:
2. Read your answers out loud; compare your answers with the other members of your class or group.
3. Combine your definitions to come up with a class-wide definition of responsibility. How does your
definition compare with the dictionary definition?
4. Once you have agreed on a definition of responsibility, use it to create a code of conduct for your
class. A code of conduct is a set of expectations on the behavior of members of a group.
Expand your definition of responsibility outward: What is your responsibility as a student?
As a friend? As a human being? What is your responsibility to your class? Your school?
Your town? State or country? Your world?
turn off the dark: make the hero connection!
Get involved! In his inaugural address, President Barack Once the problem has been identified, discuss the questions
Obama called responsibility “the price and the promise of that need to be considered before getting to work.
citizenship.” Being responsible is a verb, it’s DOING the right
thing, not waiting around for the right thing to happen! We
all have “powers” – talents and traits that make us special.
2. SHINE THE SPOTLIGHT!
We can choose to use these powers to help others or let How can you use your “powers” or your talents to bring
them go to waste. What is your “power”? How can you use about change? What can you do to attract attention to the
your power to help people? How can you make the Hero spotlight on the problem you’ve chosen? Here are some
Spider-Man takes on obstacles by himself, but groups can be • Panel discussions: Invite experts and lawmakers to speak
heroes, too. People can often overcome obstacles by working about your issue
together. How can an organization or a community be a • Letters to the editor
hero? How about a class?
• Letters and/or articles in your school newspaper/web site/
local access TV
Work with your class or group to “turn off the • Prepare your own newspaper or newsletter about the issue
dark” somewhere in your community; identify • Create a “museum” based on your issue, with items,
a problem and work to fix it! posters, art work, video installations
• Lobbying – get the word out to your lawmakers
1. IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM • Organize: rallies, meetings, panel discussion, boycotts
Time to brainstorm! Discuss problems in your community that • Radio broadcasts or approved announcements over the
need to be solved, or an obstacle that needs to be overcome. public address system in your school
Or, if you’d rather, each student can write down an idea on a
• Create a web site or YouTube video about your issue (with
slip of paper and ideas can be discussed anonymously.
3. GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY! • Host a painting party to repaint old homes
Get to work! Creating a volunteer project in your community • Planting trees, flowers and shrubs and landscaping
that can see a beginning, middle and completion can be very materials
satisfying. Here are some suggestions; maybe they will spark
some ideas about problems that need fixing in your school or 4. RECORD AND ASSESS
community: As you begin your “Turn Off The Dark” project, assign
• Park, river or beach clean up someone the job of recording secretary. It will be their job
to create a log or journal during the process to gauge the
• Recycling drive
success of the undertaking, so that others can learn from
• Host a food drive your successes and mistakes. How can you be responsible as
• Gathering food, clothes or other necessary items for a group? How was the action successful? What could have
been done better?
the Spider in mYtholoGY and folklore
Spiders have woven their webs through myths and stories from cultures around the world.
Here are just a few:
THE SPIDER WOMAN: Many Native American cultures ANANSI: African and Caribbean stories tell of Anansi
tell of the Spider Woman, who created the first human beings, the trickster spider, most clever of all the beings in creation,
and taught them many important skills, including weaving. As who, after winning a bet with the gods, owned all the world’s
a matter of fact, it was a Navajo tradition to rub a spider web stories, and shared them with people. The story of Anansi is
onto a baby girl’s arm, so that she would absorb the spider’s believed to have begun with the Ashanti people of Ghana
skill and become a great weaver. in Africa. The stories of Anansi proved to be popular and so
wide-spread that they became known as “Anansesem,” or
THE SPIDER MAN: Sioux legends sang of Iktome, the “spider tales.”
Spider Man, a mischievous trickster god who would fool
authority figures in wildly inappropriate ways.
CAT’S CRADLE: The Navajo people believed that the
game Cat’s Cradle, which we still play today, was a gift of
the Spider people. The spiders taught the Navajo to play the
game with the condition that they would only play it during
the winter time, when spiders were sleeping. If the game was
played during the warm months, disaster would occur.
WATER SPIDER: The Cherokee American Indians believed
that in the beginning of time, there was no fire and the world
was cold and wet. All the animals tried to get fire from the
Thunders (beings who hoarded fire), but came back scorched.
Only the Water Spider was able to spin her thread into a
bowl to gather some fire coals and bring them back to a
ROBERT THE BRUCE: A Scottish legend tells of King Robert
the Bruce who, when in hiding after many military losses
against the English, saw a spider trying to climb up its web,
falling back but always trying, again and again. Inspired by
the spider’s perseverance, Bruce came out of hiding and led
his forces to victory.
• Discuss how spiders are portrayed in literature, movies
and other media today (for example, Charlotte’s Web
by E.B. White, spiders in both the Harry Potter stories
and The Lord of the Rings)
• Why do you think that spiders were often linked with
creativity in legend and myth?
• How is Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark a modern
If a spider falls down in front of you, you will get a present (Polynesia)
If a spider creates a web across a doorway, expect company (U.S.A.)
A spider seen in the morning: grief; a spider seen at noon: joy; a spider seen at night: hope
(an old French proverb)
comic BookS: a true american art form
“If there’s such a thing as a golden age of comics, it’s happening right now.”
- from Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Douglas Wolk
Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark takes the two-dimensional
comic book page and blasts it into a three-dimensional
spectacle happening LIVE right in front of your eyes! But comic
art is hardly flat or static. The comic art form has been called
“movies on the page.” By arranging images in a sequence
(usually in boxes called “panels”), one after the other, comics
can create the illusion of movement and time passing. It’s up to
the reader to use his or her imagination to “fill in the blanks”
between the actions shown in each panel, creating the full
reality in their heads.
No wonder the most popular genre that uses the comic art
form is superhero stories like Spider-Man; comics can give
us a breathtaking illusion of power, speed and motion that is
perfect for superhero stories. But comics don’t have to be only
about superheroes, just as “movies” don’t have to only be
action films, or “novels” don’t only have to be romance tales.
Comics is an art form or a medium, and like other art forms,
it can hold many different styles and genres, from history
to humor, from horror to biography. As Jessica Abel and
Matt Madden write in Drawing Words and Writing Pictures:
Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond, comics
is “a container for ideas.”
A (VERY) BRIEF HISTORY OF COMIC BOOKS SUPERHEROES: “THE HERO THAT COULD BE YOU”
The Origins of Comic Books The headlong action, speed, color and excitement of
superhero stories seemed to be made for comics. In the hands
Your school principal has a very important job, but can of extraordinarily creative writers and artists, the impossible
you imagine if he or she helped to create a major part of seemed vividly real. Superheroes have been popular since
American culture? That’s just what happened when Maxwell the late 1930s. Most of the heroes were like flawless gods:
C. Gaines, an unemployed high school principal turned strong, brooding, above the rest of humanity, better, smarter,
salesman from the Bronx helped to create the art form we call stronger than the rest of us. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that
comic books. Gaines and Harry Wildenberg both worked in superheroes forged a connection with human beings.
the sales department of Eastern Color Printing in New York
City, and were looking for a new sales tool. Comic strips were In 1961, the publisher of Marvel comics told a young writer
very popular, and Wildenberg hit on the notion that they named Stan Lee to create a superhero team. Working with
could be used to sell other things besides newspapers. The artist Jack Kirby, Lee created a super-team with a difference;
first standardized comic book was called Funnies on Parade: although they had extraordinary powers on the outside,
32 pages of reprinted newspaper strips, published in 1933 inside, these four beings were very human, with the same
as a premium for Proctor and Gamble. It was so successful flaws and problems as the rest of us. As Kirby said, “Perfect
that Eastern decided to print its own book. In the summer of heroes are boring to the reader…they’ve got to have human
1934, Famous Funnies, considered the first modern format frailties to keep the story interesting.” They were called The
comic book, was printed. It was 64 pages, and reprinted Fantastic Four.
such classic comic strips as Joe Palooka, Mutt & Jeff and Buck
The Fantastic Four proved so successful for Marvel that
Rogers. Gaines and Wildenberg had shown that comics did
Lee continued to create flawed heroes at an amazing
not need to be part of a newspaper to sell; they could stand
rate. In 1962, he and Kirby created The Incredible Hulk, a
on their own.
sympathetic monster who just wanted to be left alone. That
same year, Lee decided to push the boundaries even more.
He and artist Steve Ditko imagined a teenaged hero with the
powers of a spider, and pop culture history was made!
here comeS the Spider-man
“Like costumed heroes? Confidentially, we in Jack Kirby had been slated to do the art on Spider-Man, but
the comic mag business refer to them as ‘long Lee felt that Kirby made the hero too muscular. “I didn’t want
underwear characters’! And, as you know, this character to look like your usual superhero. I just wanted
they’re a dime a dozen! But, we think you may him to be a shy teenager, who wasn’t too handsome,” said
find our Spider-Man just a bit…different!” Stan Lee. Lee called on Steve Ditko, who gave Peter Parker
– from Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962 and Spider-Man a wiry, thin feeling, with many bizarre poses
reminiscent of a spider. Ditko had done a great deal of work
on horror comic titles, and his villains, with names like the
Spider-Man first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 during Sandman, Doctor Octopus, the Vulture and the Green Goblin,
the summer of 1962. From the beginning, this was a new type often had a horrific tone to them.
of hero. Before Spider-Man, superheroes were mostly adults,
but Peter Parker was only 15 years old when he was first Lee and Ditko were determined that the comic be as much
bitten by the spider. Closer in age to the readers, this young about Peter Parker as it was about Spider-Man. He was just
hero had all the problems that a young reader could identify a regular guy, a “geek” that kids could identify with. Marvel
with: Peter Parker had to deal with love, death, money, and called him, “the hero who could be you.”
later, even the dangers of drug abuse in his friends. “Up until
then,” said Lee, “superheroes didn’t really have problems. But even though life is very hard for Peter Parker and Spider-
They only had one problem, and that was how to beat up Man, he never loses his optimism. Despite his pain, he sees
every villain. I wasn’t interested in writing stories like that.” life with great humor and is always ready to mock those who
take themselves too seriously. This above all is the message of
For Edge, one of the composers of Spider-Man Turn Off The Spider-Man: to face the problems of life without turning away,
Dark, comic books were an important part of growing up: but face them with a smile and a sense of humor. Stan Lee
“In many ways, the audience for a rock and roll band and said, “He was always struggling to find answers, and people
the audience for a comic book are the same – it’s kids like can relate to that.”
ourselves, you know, 15-16, out in the suburbs – in our case,
of Dublin City – but it could be any city in America or Europe.
You know, it’s like it seems at that moment in your life that
there’s this world out there that you just can’t get across to
and the only way you can connect with it is through music or
comic books…Comic books were alongside rock and roll.”
create Your oWn Superhero!
Superheroes are the new mythology! Armed with amazing powers, these heroes battle monsters,
villains, even gods, but never fail to let their human sides peek through. Now that you’ve learned about the
creation of Spider-Man, it’s time to create your own superhero!
1. the poWerS!
Peter Parker gains the powers of a spider: its strength, agility, its power to spin webs and climb on
walls. What powers will your hero have? Will he or she have the powers of an animal or insect? Super
strength? Flight? Write down five of your hero’s powers:
POWER #1: ________________________________________
POWER #2: ________________________________________
POWER #3: ________________________________________
POWER #4: ________________________________________
POWER #5: ________________________________________
2. the oriGin!
In superhero mythology, the “origin” is the beginning of the story: how the hero first gained his or her
powers. In Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, Peter acquires his powers after being bitten by a radioactive
spider. The Incredible Hulk was born when Bruce Banner was trapped in a Gamma ray blast; the
X-Men received their powers as mutations, through birth. In a short paragraph, describe how your hero
gained his or her powers:
THE ORIGIN OF MY HERO: ________________________________________________________________
3. the name!
Now that you know the powers and origin of your hero, what is his or her name?
My hero is called: ______________________________________________
4. the proBlemS!
Just as in real life, it’s problems that make the lives of characters interesting to follow. Peter Parker has
to deal with his sick aunt, guilt over his uncle’s death, concern about his secret identity, the hatred of J.
Jonah Jameson, and many other obstacles. How a hero confronts problems shows a great deal about
his or her character.
Brainstorm three problems that might affect the life of your superhero
PROBLEM #1: _____________________________________________________________________________
PROBLEM #2: _____________________________________________________________________________
PROBLEM #3: _____________________________________________________________________________
5. the coStume!
Create the costume for your superhero. How does the costume reflect the hero’s name?
What colors will you use to show the hero’s name, origin, powers, even his or her problems?
plaYinG With the comic…
“…comics are just words and pictures.
You can do anything with words and pictures.”
– Comics writer Harvey Pekar
1. START WITH A STORY 3. SET UP YOUR GRID
The story beats that you have chosen will be the ones you will
It all starts with a story. Before you can play with the comic
draw in the panels of your comic. Since panels are usually
art form, you’re going to need a story. The comic art form,
rectangular in shape, they are often set up in a grid pattern
like theatre, is not just pretty pictures and exciting visuals – it
on the page. On the opposite page, find a blank grid pattern
is a storytelling medium that combines words and pictures. So
of 6 panels. You can copy this page as many times as you’d
you’re going to need a story as a foundation. Any story will
like to create your comic book, or draw your own panels
do. All you need is a beginning, a middle and an end.
and gutters to get the effects you want! As you get more
comfortable in the comics art form, you may want to change
the grid pattern, adding larger panels for more important
beats, even changing the shape of the panels depending on
- Create a story for the superhero you created
the emotions of the story.
- Rewrite a story from mythology
- Rewrite a story from history Most cartoonists use pencil and ink, but you can use any
- Revisit a story from current events medium you wish. REMEMBER! You don’t have to be a
- Recreate a story from your own life “great” artist here – the main point is to get your ideas,
your passions and your emotions across to the reader. The
cartoonist Rollin Kirby once said, “A good idea has carried
2. FEEL THE BEATS! many an indifferent drawing to glory, but never has a good
drawing rescued a bad idea from oblivion.”
Now that you’ve found your story, find its beats. Think of your
story as a series of moments, or beats. Not all moments in
a story are equal: some are very important, but others can
go by quickly. Think about the moments – the beats – in your
story that you want to show in your comic, that you think are
• Create a comic strip or comic book with photos you take.
• Create a comic strip or comic book with cut-out photos from a magazine or newspaper
• Comic and Cartoon art is all around us. Media and advertising have appropriated the language of comic and cartoon
art to make their points; artists like Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein have used comic and cartoon art techniques in
their own work. For one week, keep a journal, recording each time you see comic and cartoon art – on the streets, in
magazines, on TV. Mark down WHERE it was seen, HOW it was used, WHAT the artist was trying to get across, and,
most important, how EFFECTIVE the use was, in your opinion.